Financial recap and other musings

So, I haven’t said much about savings, retirement planning et cetera. In fact, all that stuff seems trivial in the face of the real depression-style era that is looming ahead of us if things continue as they have in the US lately. The economy is in a free-fall as more people and investor panic and yank their money out of the system. I don’t blame them, but it’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy. *shudders* Anyhow, I’m not retiring anytime soon so I hope that my investments will stand the test of time. I’m sorely tempted to do the usual trick of investors i.e buying stocks at low prices, but what if they never recover? Well, that was not the sole focus of this post. I was going to talk about our energy usage and brag a little bit even about how two of us are keeping a low energy footprint in our apartment in the face of a hot summer and now, perhaps an unusually cool winter? Here’s a chart I whipped up in Excel:
As you can see, we haven’t even cracked $42 in bill payments yet! Clearly, we’ve shot up during the summer, but not enough to get me worried. My guess for this winter will be that we won’t hit $50, but I anticipate running some standalone heating elements because I’m really anti-cold. 🙂 According to M, reason number 2001 to have more body fat. Here are the actual numbers:
Now, if only other areas of expense resemble our energy costs! In fact, our utilities are the most stable liabilities we have i.e. internet and energy. Food and Gas are the current major money guzzlers and we are working on a means to cook at home more. We are paying the price of eating out and constantly having excuses for not cooking at home. Heck, I can’t count how many items have gone bad because we didn’t cook them in time.

Payday is nigh and I’m already feeling pinched! Here is a quick breakdown of some of the pre-programmed expenses I have:

Jane’s expenses
HP Laptop Credit Card $500
SunTrust Credit Card $100
Roth IRA $200
ING Direct Savings $250
Rent $275
Cellphone $50

Now, in a sick and twisted way, seeing the expenses laid out gives me courage to keep going on because I know that my aggressive strategy will pay off! For instance, after another such $500 payment to the HP laptop fund, I’ll have an extra $500 to “play” with. We have slowed off on the SunTrust payoff, but I’ve been snowflaking little amounts to it so I fully expect to have a balance of zero by the end of the year. I’ve been making little contributions to a christmas fund so that I’ll be able to get little tokens of appreciation for people. Overall, I don’t think our financial outlook is dire. After I got my laptop, things got thrown off kilter a little bit, but I definitely don’t regret that purchase. In a couple of years, I see myself upgrading the laptop i.e. giving Matt this one and getting the next OS upgrade that Microsoft has to offer. On that sombering note, I’ll sign off and I bid you all a good night!

Savings, Retirement and WordPress woes

Of late, I’ve been reading a lot of personal finance blogs and I could kick myself for the information that I’m discovering that I wish I’d known before. Nevertheless, it is not too late. I am turning 23 this year and I got started on my first ‘real’ job. My job automatically contributes the maximum amount from my paychecks to a 401(k) which they match at a rate of 9%. This is pretty good. Their benefits are good such that M has dropped his employer’s health plan in favor of mine e.g. they cover 90% vs his employer’s 80% plan). Based on stuff I’m reading, here are several things I’m learning:

  1. Debt resolution should be #1 on your list. You can do this by paying it down aggressively or “snowflaking” approach popularized by Dave Ramsey i.e. you pay little at a time, taking money from little areas that you might otherwise ignore. In my case, snowflaking will be the best way to go afterall that’s pretty much how I cleared up my Bank of America credit card. Let me see them collect 20.74% APR on a zero balance card. In your face!!
  2. Building an emergency fund. The idea of an emergency fund is emergencies. It’s said that an emergency fund should be “three to six months worth of basic living expenses”. Without going into too much detail, this will also require me/us to practice some serious snowflaking habits. Now, I started this one out the wrong way. What did I do? I put $100 in a tip jar. Now, this is a special tip jar, but M just showed me a neat way of retrieving money from this jar so I’ve safely retrieved the $100 from this jar, but that’s not what was wrong with my approach. The money was just sitting in my tip-jar when there are no-cost high yield savings accounts that are liquid (i.e. easily accessible assets)! So, I have started an Orange Savings Account with a 4.10% annual percentage yield. All you need to open this account with is: $1.
  3. I’m also learning that it is a good thing to participate in another type of retirement account (the IRA or individual retirement account) called a Roth IRA. I would go out right now and start one, but the biggest obstacle is committing to the somewhat hefty payments that need to be made monthly. Additionally, I’d like to set up one for both Matt and myself so it will take some number crunching. Last night, M & I couldn’t sleep and we actually sat down (or up cos we were lounging on the bed) and tallied our cost of living. We are going to do some interesting things with that discovery and I’m pumped about being savings, et cetera.
  4. A key principle to getting rid of debt and not getting stuck in the cycle is not channeling all your funds towards the debt such that when some mini-disaster strikes, you will end up having to resort to dipping into the credit card pool. It’s taking a little while for me to wrap my head around that, but it makes perfect sense. For a while last year, I would throw quite a bit at both cards and by the end of the month, I’d find out that I was essentially going nowhere! However, little chips here and there caused me to wipe out the Bank of America card, some old lingering school fees, etc.

That’s about it for now. I’ve been going nuts tinkering with my WordPress 2.3.2 installation because contrary to my last post’s congratulatory tone, I still am getting the “tinyMCE is undefined” error which causes the toolbar to disappear. I finally hunted down Dean’s FCKEditor plugin for WordPress and I’m typing merrily once again. I hope the WordPress developers fix whatever is causing the TinyMCE toolbar to disappear. I mean, I reuploaded a fresh instance of WordPress 2.3.2 (after deleting old files) and my toolbar showed briefly. Today, I logged in and coudn’t get my toolbar to show. Anyhow, I’m working with the FCKEditor now so I don’t care too much. In more WordPress news, I’ve been discovering some really cool plugins most notably StatPress! It’s like stats on steroids!! l recently transitioned from using the WordPress Reports plugin because it kept “forgetting” that I’d put in my Google account information a zillion times. So, I decided to go with Local Analytics which gives a lot of customization room. Still, I really miss the nice report view that the WordPress reports gave me. I haven’t gotten used to the really complex Google analytics interface and it takes me a while to figure who visited my site, and from where. It’s a confusing mish-mash. That’s why I still have Statcounter running on this site because it condenses the information and presents it in relevant bite-sized and digestible chunks. Hey, I’m easy to please.

Oh and lastly, I finally gave into activating the Share This plugin because it really wiped out several things in one fell swoop: giving you the ability to email/IM/twitter any post you like to your friend/enemy/frenemy as well as posting it to any or all of your accounts on Facebook/MySpace or the next hot social networking site. I didn’t like that the original developer (Alex King) had sold the plugin and that I had to sign up to use the plugin, but it wasn’t that painful and I just hope I don’t get spammed. Besides, the older version of the plugin is still available. He’s pretty involved in the WordPress community and I trust his plugins. Alright, I’m getting tired. It’s red flag day and I’m really twitchy. I wonder how come I am relatively docile up until the day comes. Then, I turn all grumpy and usually, my grumpiness is even what alerts me to the possibility that the red lady’s come a-knocking! I know, weird. I’m pretty regular although not to the exact day. It’s more along the lines of a windows of 7 days. So, stay outta my way for the next 5-7 days. lol